Goals give your characters something to dream about. Motivation gives them a reason to follow their dreams. And then they live happily ever after. Right?
Absolutely positively NOT.
That house doesn’t just build itself. The wedding doesn’t just materialize with pomp and circumstance. The families aren’t always nice and pleasant. Trouble brews. Emotions get out of hand. Things go awry.
And that, dear writer, is conflict.
In order to have a story worth reading you must have conflict. You need to stir things up. Fine and dandy equals boring. Page-turning books are based on trouble, trouble, and more trouble.
Outer conflict shows up as an obstacle or obstacles that get in the way of the goal. That house the hero plans to build for his wife is a lovely idea, but issues plague him from the start. The contractor comes down with the flu and can’t manage the job. The hero finds a replacement contractor who seems dependable but turns out uncaring. The crew arrives late and leaves early. The work is slipshod. And the contractor demands more money. Then the families decide to have a say. The hero’s mother pushes him for a showdown with the contractor, and if he won’t do it she will. The heroine’s dad starts showing up on site and giving the hero and the contractor advice, which aggravates the situation. Work comes to a halt.
The hero wants to quit. But he’s made a promise to the heroine. And his fear of being a failure, his inner conflict, will come to pass if he doesn’t see this through. So he struggles, daily, with his mental war. Positive: I can do this. I can work out all the problems. I’m educated, I’m logical, I’ll just appeal to everyone’s sense of fairness. Negative: This is crap. Forget all this. Forget everybody. Who cares about getting married? I don’t even love her anymore.
Can you see where this is going?
Conflict keeps the pages turning. Conflict keeps your readers guessing. They wonder, “How bad is it going to get?” So the question that you keep asking is, “How can I make it worse?”
The trick to a good story is to weave the GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) throughout your book. You don’t start with the goal, then switch to motivation, then focus on conflict. They weave together. They dance with each other. The hero finds a good contractor to start and things look good. Then the contractor gets the flu. Not so good. The hero digs inside for motivation and finds a replacement contractor. Things are looking good again. Then he finds out the new contractor is a jerk. Not so good. And so on.
Filling out the chart with your main characters and their GMC gives you the strategy for your book. [See the prior articles on Goals and Motivation.] With all that information you know your characters strengths and weaknesses. You know how to build them up and take them down. You know how to make them succeed and how to fail. You’ve become the master storyteller.
Photos by hotblack, Jusben, kakisky, morguefile.com